Fall 2008 Course Description

Advanced Research Methods

Instructor(s): Cynthia Osborne
Course: P A 390C - Advanced Research Methods
Unique Number: 64870
Day & Time: Wednesdays, 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Room: SRH 3.108
Waitlist Information:For LBJ Students: UT Waitlist Information

Description: Description: When planning and carrying out a research study, policy researchers have to make four classes of decisions:
1. What problems to research and how to think about them;
2. How to structure the inquiry and collect data;
3. How to make sense of the raw data; and
4. How to draw conclusions that will be useful to policymakers and future researchers.
There is a lot of self-conscious “science” associated with this – especially stages two and three – but many of the fundamental decisions are more art and craft than science. Good researchers develop a “feel” for a good question, sound design and analysis procedures, and appropriate interpretation. Our objective in this course is to help students develop that sense of the art, craft, and science associated with effective research studies.
As with anything else, the best way to learn something is to do it. Participants in this course will look at a wide variety of examples, consider and second-guess the choices other researchers have made, and make their own choices in the course of developing two products: a workable proposal for a policy research study; and a reanalysis and interpretation of an existing data set. Specific topics depend on the needs and interests of the participants, and will be worked out as we go.
Nevertheless, some general themes will permeate the entire course:
• The role of research paradigms and their operationalization in structuring inquiry and ensuring (or distorting) versimilitude with reality;
• The complementary nature of subjective or interpretive methods (e.g., interviews and observations) and more objective methods (e.g., negative binomial regression on a cross-sectional/time-series data set);
• The role of uncertainty reduction, through appropriate design, good measurement practices, and clever analysis and interpretation techniques;
• The importance of explicitly considering alternative viewpoints (technically, avoiding specification error) at all stages of inquiry; and
• Recognition that, from a policy perspective, truth is a relative concept and a pragmatic approach is called for throughout the inquiry.
This is one of the three required courses in the LBJ School’s PhD core curriculum, and is tailored to that program. Nevertheless, doctoral students from other departments and a limited number of exceptionally well-qualified second-year LBJ masters students are welcome to enroll with the instructor’s consent. The prerequisites for all students are (1) the equivalent of two semesters of graduate-level statistics with a comfortable command of linear regression analysis and (2) sufficient interest in and knowledge of a policy research field that the student will be able to develop a workable proposal and identify an existing data set suitable for reanalysis. For more information, please email the instructor.

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